There’s No Place Like Home : The Changing Definition of Exile in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Shame
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
The concept for this thesis was bom out of my interest in identity construction and contemporary viewpoints on migrancy and exile. I first discovered Salman Rushdie's fiction upon reading the novel Shame, and was immediately struck by his intention, not only to discuss the issues surrounding migrancy, but also to make the reader feel a sense of migrant alienation through his narrative technique. I began to explore the unique ways in which Rushdie uses language, characters and plot to redefine exile as a liberating and positive experience, rather than simply a devastating loss.
However, during my research, I also began to notice that a long-standing tradition of scholars advocating migrancy already existed. It had been established long before Rushdie came on the scene and I felt that I needed to make reference to the ways in which his fiction continues the work of these intellectuals. Rather than being the inventor of the cosmopolitan ideal, Rushdie makes use of the English language and the tradition of the novel in order to reinvent the ways in which fiction can be written as well as read.
In the first chapter of this thesis, "The Changing Definition of Exile," I take a closer look at the ingrained notions of roots that tend to keep us in place and the ways in which we are taught as children about where we belong. I also examine the work of classical as well as modem philosophers and scholars in order to establish the framework from which Rushdie is working on issues of identity and home.
In "Midnight's Children," I explore the ways in which the narrator Saleem struggles to construct an identity in the face of the parallel Indian identity crisis. Bom at the exact moment of Indian Independence, he must come to terms with the diverse aspects of his personal makeup in order to move forward. The telling of his life story and the subsequent passing of that story onto his son allows for a positive ending— one that looks forward to the possibilities that exist for the next generation. I argue that this process is Rushdie’s way of advocating for a change in our beliefs about home and away and where we belong.
Lastly, in Shame," I point to the shift in Rushdie's story-telling and the ways in which Shame is much darker and more ominous than Midnight's Children Rushdie seems to be taking his cues from history and this novel makes clear his feeling that the partition of Pakistan was a mistake. Our main character Sufiya Zinobia is the physical manifestation of Pakistan. As such, she takes on the disappointment, pain and shame of the people for the failure of their national experiment. Her character indicates the difficulty that Pakistanis must have in attempting to construct an identity based on lies.
This novel also brings up issues regarding memory and how migrants must reconcile the fact that their version of events may be fragmented. Bits and pieces of memory are fit back together in the mind in order to fashion what Rushdie calls an imaginary homeland." This place is part unreliable memory, part history and part imagination. Throughout this thesis, I examine the ways in which Rushdie uses his narrative space to discuss these very contemporary and very relevant issues.
Soliman, Patricia J., "There’s No Place Like Home : The Changing Definition of Exile in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Shame" (2007). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 1269.